Hygiene and Cleaning

Alternatives to commercially available chemical cleaners

  • Lino, vinyl - mop with warm soapy water (or washing up liquid) and use washing soda if greasy. Be careful not to let water get under the floor covering.
  • Carpets, rugs - ideally take outside and beat, otherwise a stiff brush is good (but will throw up a lot of dust). Car vacuum cleaners are generally unimpressive.
  • For washing carpets, use water with washing up liquid, or sprinkle with bicarbonate of soda and leave for two hours or longer, then vacuum off. Don't use carpet shampoo with perchloroethylene, a solvent used in dry cleaning that causes damage to vital organs and to the environment. Naphthalene is toxic if repeatedly inhaled and is also a suspected carcinogen. Remember to do this in summer, and not to use too much water otherwise it will soak through and you'll have to dry out your dry bilge under the cabin.
  • Wood - use linseed oil or Osmo Polyx oil on floors and for furniture - see the wood treatment section of this handbook. Don't use aerosol polishes as most contain silicone, a solvent whose vapour is irritating and which can leave a residue on the wood. Some aerosols also still contain propellants, which damage the ozone layer.
  • Stains - use washing up liquid or white distilled vinegar in boiling water. For mud, blood, or coffee, mix one part of borax with eight parts of water, or use washing soda dissolved in water. Borax is sodium tetraborate, a naturally occurring mineral salt, and washing soda is sodium carbonate. Neither should be swallowed (!), and gloves should be worn when using washing soda. Don't use cleaners containing sodium percarbonate, an irritant, though not damaging to the environment, or 111 trichlorethane, which contains chlorine compounds damaging to the ozone layer.
  • Windows - use equal parts of white vinegar and water in a spray bottle; spray on and polish off with a soft cloth or use a non-toxic window cleaner based on acetic acid. Don't use cleaners containing ammonia, an irritant, or aerosol types of cleaners, or those with formaldehyde.
  • Sinks and drains - if your sink drain hose goes straight outside just pour some boiling water down it. Make sure there are no ducks underneath since they often drink sink water draining out of boats (!) If your sink drains into a holding tank or box before being pumped outside you can pour in some bicarbonate of soda with vinegar in boiling water down and leave it for a while. Don't use bleach, which may be sodium hypochlorite (chlorine bleach) or based on hydrogen peroxide (oxygen bleach). These give off irritating fumes and can burn your skin and corrode the tank if it is metal. Chlorine bleach is a water pollutant and shouldn't be allowed into the canal/river water.
  • Descalers - use white vinegar or lemon juice with an equal amount of water, boil in the kettle and leave for 1-2 hours. Don't use descalers with strong acids such as formic acid, sulphamic acid or phosphoric acid.
  • Dishes - use Bio D or Clearspring (both made in the UK). Ecover is subject to a boycott because it is a sister company to Group 4. The security company has been responsible for beating up many environmental activists and now runs private refugee prisons. Ecover also have only a "5-year rolling" policy on animal testing - which many people consider useless. For tea-stained mugs, put a tablespoon of baking powder in each mug, then half fill with boiling water (it'll fizz up so don't overfill). Leave for 5-10 minutes, then wash as usual.
  • Ovens - use elbow grease(!) and bicarbonate of soda, or washing up liquid. Don't use caustic soda, aerosol oven cleaners, or ammonia.
  • Toilets - use white distilled vinegar to remove stains, and mild borax solution to disinfect, or sprinkle with bicarbonate of soda, leave overnight, and brush well in the morning. Avoid air freshener blocks containing para-(or per) chlorobenzene, a serious water pollutant, or paradichlorobenzene which causes liver damage.
  • Brass - use equal parts salt and flour, with a little vinegar; or dissolve citric acid in water and dip your brasses in.
  • Washing machines - have a look at http://www.inasoapnutshell.com/index.html
  • Stoves - You can clean your chimney from above with a chain (it's more flexible than a broom handle, which some people use). You can clean glass on a burner with woodash and a damp towel. 

Where to buy environmentally friendly cleaning products

Wholefood and Health food shops usually stock Bio-D, Ecover etc products, so always check there first.

You may also come across Tia's boat selling these products: tiacares.weebly.com

Ovens - use elbow grease(!)

Ovens - use elbow grease(!) and bicarbonate of soda, or washing up liquid. Don't use caustic soda, aerosol oven cleaners, or ammonia.

Bicarbonate of soda is very effective. I'm using this in our sink and stove as well.

pedal powered washer and spinner

I have just found this news report on a wonderful invention which is being field tested in peru at the moment. It isn't yet available. The inventor has said that they hope it will be available for retail next year, so keep an eye out for it.


It is one of the best inventions I have seen in such a long time.. meeting the needs of those it was invented for as well as others wanting to live off grid. Just right for boaters


Wonder Wash hand washing machine

Any one tried the hand cranked Wonder Wash? It looks quite useful: http://www.testfreaks.com/blog/review/wonderwash/

Wonder Wash


We used to have one of these many years ago but got rid of it in the end.  The theory is good - and it got things clean - but it always felt like the legs were about to give way.  Looking at the Test Freaks video it seems the legs may have been beefed up a bit since we got ours, but this far down the line I'm not sure.  The metal pins are new too.  I remember the handle wasn't easy to turn either - although I remember using more water than the video shows - which used to slosh around and made it harder to turn.  In the end I used to use the knob on the lid and the emptying spout to flip it over by pulling them towards me.    Also we didn't have a sink at the time so I used it in the shower - which put a lot of strain on my back - would have been better at counter height.

Generally I found it easier to use a washing-up bowl and do a hand wash the old fashioned way.  Less to store too.

Speaking of doing things the old fashioned way - does anyone know where I could get a Posser (or Washing Dolly or whatever they're called) like the one the lady is using in the Winning Postcards Afloat section (#19)?

Thanks for your help.  Great site!

I have an old one but a

I have an old one but a different make. Same function though. I think it's great for unmentionables, socks, t-shirts, the odd shirt and stuff. Trousers or jeans is pushing it's limits a little though. It washes very clean. Cleaner than regular hand washing if you ask me. Since mine is German from the 50's, I can not say anything about the Wonderswash's durability. Mine is built like a tank :-)


Bit of a plug: Bio-D cleaners are now available from many (not all) Oxfam shops.


er- Sarsens vinegar is now owned by Nestle and therefore not very person nor eco friendly! ;>)